Carol Jane Remsburg
There is no picture or word or lovingly shed tear that encompasses the reach of joy. That which is something beyond hope will occur within an instant. Joy is alighting into the steps of God. Joy holds purity; a distillation of happiness that happens in brevity of seconds and cannot be created or reproduced. Joy simply is.
Then it is gone. While happiness, or some form of it continues on, the actual joy of the moment has already faded.
With holidays there is a long, slow buildup that often overshoots its mark leaving torn wrappings, disastrous meals, and grousing family members in its wake. Summer vacations offer new venues yet often with the same results. We adults plan everything. We budget our joy in dollars and cents in trips and purchases to dazzle our children in hopes we are offering them memories and perhaps a touch of that much remembered but lost happiness. And while we hope that a flash a joy will appear, we can never be certain that it will. If it does then all know and we do remember it.
I've been so lucky. I've had so many moments of joy. From childhood to adulthood they came never quite when I thought they'd come. I cherish them—every one of them.
Often I've written about my grandparents who allowed me to sink or swim and to survive. I'm lucky just to still be here but without those opportunities I'd never have savored real joy. I've stumbled, embarrassed myself, and at times exposed myself to real risks—yet they counted upon the fact that I wasn't totally a feeb and hoped that I'd make it. I did.
What do I remember as a child about joy? The real stuff or the fake stuff? The fake stuff was easy and limited. The "fake stuff" was when Mom and Dad tried too hard when oldest sis, Melly, was sick with cancer. Everything was forced and all was contrived to put the show on for middle sis, Bets, and youngest kid, me. It wasn't joy, it wasn't happiness; it was simply something we all endured. It helped the adults while scaring the crap out of us. No joy there.
Now snatches of happiness happened frequently, often when we weren't looking. Perhaps we'd hoped over it and sometimes it did unfold just like a Currier & Ives print. This usually happened during the Halloween, the Thanksgiving, and the Christmas holidays. Happiness also happened during our camping vacations during the summertime.
The happiness didn't always appear when it was supposed to. With the holidays it wasn't usually the gifts and treats that did the trick—it was the little things, the small things, the songs, the hugs, the aroma of a loving hand turning out a favorite meal, and that presence of a loving haven. It was the laughter over old jokes and the protection from the rest of the world we felt.
Happiness was being tucked into our beds during a blizzard with double blankets while Daddy groused under his breath all his worries to Mom. They never realized we heard. We thought it a fantastic adventure for nothing truly bad could ever happen to us. It never did.
Joy is a hybrid of happiness. Joy is something so beyond a smile and a nod that it can only be experienced to be known. Children find it much better than we—and they revel in it. Adults often only encounter it again via their kids—but sometimes we get lucky.
I've had so many moments that I've been blessed with that it's hard to account for them all yet a few stand out. No, they don't stand out, they demand acknowledgement.
My first experience with joy wasn't the thrill of Santa, being potty-trained, or learning to tie my shoes. No, I recall it clearly for it wasn't something Mom or Dad could have created. It was a snowstorm—a really big, bad hombre of a blizzard. Living in that home built in 1947 that we moved into in 1963, the house had an enormous picture window. The murmur of the background noise was Dad lowly commenting over how much the barometer had dropped while eyeing the outdoor temps that had dropped to about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. At almost 6 I knew it was bad but much of it had little meaning beyond the "bad." It was exciting to be afraid when I knew I was still safe. We three sisters sat totally enraptured by the snow as it pelted down against the glass as the outside light illuminated it all. We three sat as kneeling at prayer—and we stayed there like small, warm statues. It was more than a foot of snow coming down, something rare for the area. Dad worried over the furnace and the sub-zero temps on the pipes. It wasn't long before the house felt chilly even with the furnace blasting. The howling winds without made us know that "the storm" was ruling the night. Each of us was tucked in with extra blankets that I didn't even know we had. I think Melly got the one from Mom and Dad's bed while they did without.
It was the fascination of the falling snow, the storm that isolated us as a family, and the loving care our parents bestowed. It was joy.
Another "joy" was fetching up my first fish alone. I'd learned how and would soon also learn how to clean fish. Still, it was that moment when I did all the right things and didn't mess up. I felt on top of the world because I'd screwed up so many times before. It was just a shame I was alone at the time. Never fear, the family heard about it for weeks and weeks after. I wouldn't shut up about it.
A summer squall was another, can you tell I adore storms—but only when I feel safe? I could have been ten or twelve but it was somewhere around there. Storms around the old house I prayed would happen. Often they would veer off to the North, or the South. But sometimes, yeah, sometimes, they actually came. It wasn't too often we were caught without warning. With warning a summer thunderstorm was savored, vaunted, and highly prized. Nowadays, you've gotta run like mad to unplug everything in sight. I still do! But back then, well, it was an open-window event with all souls quiet and waiting. Every rumble heightened the experience. The blacker the clouds, the closer the lightning, and the louder the crescendos of thunder—brought major joy.
Learning to camp, pitch a tent, set a campfire, cook a meal—and covering your pillow against the dampness—will all provide an earthy joy. It's one of accomplishment and learning. It's learning to deal with snakes without screaming and well, other things. Well, maybe that was happiness—the joy part what waking up to Daddy cooking eggs and bacon over the portable gas grill while Mom flipped pancakes on the stove in that creaky old trailer. Then there was the percolated coffee and hot chocolate when we thought we were freezing to death. Now THAT'S joy! That's also great love.
Those preteen and early teen years were ones of angst when they ought not to have been. As much as our parents tried to help and divert us, we plunged in full-steam ahead. Like every other teen, I was dumb and couldn't enjoy the gifts I was given.
All too soon it was time to grow up. Did I ever really make it to "grown up?" Do any of us? I think we all try at least. It's a hard thing, but then I learned that I hadn't really grownup until much later.
I will say that my wedding day did hold joy—quite a lot of it. Things were going so awfully that I had to stop and laugh. I knew that by the end of the day that all would be well and Don and I would be married so all that small stuff and wasn't going well would end up being right. After twenty years, it seems it was right after all. Yet it was that moment after the rain, the bad ride, the run stockings, the less than five minutes to make up my face for the most important day of my life, when the funniest thing happened. Poor Daddy had to run up into that huge empty church to "re-dress" me after I'd gotten stuck. Watching Father Etherton light the "old" candles for the service that acolytes could have done brought tears, but it was the vision of the man who awaited me at the alter that blew it all away. There he stood, nervous and as scared as me but ready to embark upon a life together. This wasn't a trivial bond but one for life. If we'd only have known, well, I think he'd have run screaming from the church—but he DIDN'T know which is a good thing.
After many years of loss and heartbreak of many differing types, we have a child—our one and only. It was a girl much to my surprise but not to Don's.
That moment of joy wasn't her actual birth because I was so scared and she'd come early and it was a C-section and all that—it was two days later—when little Erin finally decided to feed at my breast. It must have been that horrific storm outside (which I found out later blew out two TVs, a garage door opener, a telephone, and other assorted sundry at the house) that urged her to clamp on after two days of chasing her about on that pillow in my lap with my breast. Sigh! We bonded! She ate! My little darling was normal, healthy and would live and grow. Joy, yes, there was enormous joy only to be shadowed with equally enormous fear. I had so wanted to be a mother but being a new mom scared me to pieces. The older you get the more you are afraid. I was thirty then and had lived long enough to build up eons of stuff to be scared about.
My points of joy have later reared up with Erin's potty training, learning to tie her shoes, her first day at Day Camp, her first week at Public School in 2nd Grade, and so forth.
About the only thing after I hit 30 that was joy outside myself and not with Erin was discovering that I could write about it all. No, that's wrong too. Not that I "could" but that I "would." Initially it was all for Erin so she could learn to know her grandparents, my parents who departed before she was born. Then it was a few items about my childhood so she might know how it was when her Aunt Mel and Aunt Betsy and old Mom grew up. These were things Erin would have a right to know and understand and believe in.
Not only is my child a gift of joy, frustration, hard work, happiness, and so many other things that there aren't words for them, but little Erin gave me another gift—she made me find a way to share with her and bond with the rest of the world.
The written word is our gift to others. We talk, we work, and we help our families. We share, we take care of our families, but we can also record these things as we reach out to others. These are the points of joy that come to us when we think we can touch nothing else.
If we have an impact on another life that has meaning then that is indeed a source of pure joy. It means that none of us are alone in this hectic world and we are grateful for it. I know that I am. I feel blessed.